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Just A Game

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ALEX

Alex couldn’t believe he was finally here. After months of going through the audition process, getting through a psych evaluation, getting tested for COVID, and self quarantining for two weeks, he was actually on The Circle.

 

At first, when he saw the show trending online and on Netflix, he’d wanted to simply hate-watch the first season of the show with his sister, since all the reality TV he’d seen before had been... kind of trashy, to say the least. He had gone into the show fully intending to poke fun at all the contestants and how overdramatic everything would be.

 

However with this show, he hated to admit it, but he got invested. The whole concept of the show was interesting to him. He’d never seen it been done before. On The Circle, each player is completely isolated from one another. The only way to contact each other is through a social network designed for the game show, called The Circle, which is displayed on the television screens in the apartments every day of filming. Through the circle, people can make their own profile, with a profile picture, bio, and their hometown, in order to make a good impression on the other players — basically like any other social media. The goal is to connect with one another through text, and hope the bonds you form are good enough to make you popular among this small community and save you from being sent home.

 

No voice chats or video calls were allowed, so players had to rely on the others’ pictures on their profile and their words on text. In other words, everything was pretty much anonymous.

 

The catch was that everyone had the choice to either play as themselves or as someone else — Whatever the player thought could help them connect with the other players, get them to the finale, and win $100,000.

 

Alex had decided right away that if he were to be on the show he would just play as himself. He’d considered catfishing as his sister June, but he figured it would probably be harder to pretend to be a girl. Plus he didn’t want to feel like he was lying to anyone about who he was. He knew it was just part of the game and to expect that there could be catfish, but that just wasn’t his style.

 

Anyway, when Alex found out the applications for the next season were open, he didn’t hesitate to sign up. Besides, there was so much he could do with the $100,000 if he won. It didn’t hurt to try, right?

 

So, he applied on a whim, and surprisingly, he got a callback, and sure enough, he got accepted to be on the show. Since filming took place in the UK, Alex had to hop on a flight over to Manchester for filming, despite the fact that this was The United States version of The Circle. Apparently there were different versions of The Circle for different countries, but they were all filmed in the United Kingdom. The plus side was that this flight was paid for by the show, a perk that came along with being a contestant this season.

 

Now, here Alex was, in his Circle apartment. He learned that the players were all put in their own apartments in the same building as each other, but most people were on their own floor. This limited their chances of anyone seeing or hearing each other, maintaining the anonymity of the game. In the event where a few people ended up on the same floor, the producers assured him that they would be on opposite ends of the floor.

 

In his apartment, there was a living room area, a kitchen, a bathroom, and of course, his bedroom. The layout wasn’t too different from his on-campus apartment at Georgetown, where he goes to college. Each room had a TV, so that he would never miss any updates or new messages from The Circle.

 

After unpacking and setting up his profile, Alex had collapsed onto his bed. Even though he’d been in the UK for two weeks now, the jetlag was still getting to him.

 

Just then, his television screen showed an alert, startling him. It said, Welcome to The Circle. Alex dumbly said hi back to his TV screen. Then it was showing him the rest of the contestants.

 

Alex’s eyes scanned the screen before him. There were seven other people here besides him. One person stood out from the rest, though. “Circle,” he started, “Click on Henry’s profile.”

 

As requested, he was led to this man’s profile. Henry’s profile picture showed a sandy blonde man who looked to be around Alex’s age, maybe a little older. It was a selfie where he had one arm outstretched to take the picture, while his other arm was wrapped around a beagle. He was looking straight ahead at the camera with a dazzling smile spreading across his face. It was sickeningly infectious.

 

The more he stared at this image, the more Alex felt like he’d seen this man before. There was something familiar about this guy... Had he been on TV before? Maybe he participated in another reality show?

 

Hmm.

 

Alex continued reading Henry’s profile. His bio read: Animal lover and aspiring writer. Prepared to change the world one book at a time! #JaffaCakesAreLife

 

What the fuck are jaffa cakes, Alex thought to himself.

 

Alex’s gaze then shifted to Henry’s hometown. It said he’s from some place in the United Kingdom. Then he saw Henry’s age: 23.

 

That’s when something clicked in his head. Like he just found the missing piece of a puzzle.

 

He did a double take as he realized who Henry was. Or, who his picture was — this is The Circle after all. Anyone could be anyone. This man in that photo was none other than Henry Fox, son of the late actor Arthur Fox. Alex didn’t know how he didn’t see it before, since he’d grown up watching Arthur Fox’s movies. Now that he’s made this realization, though, there’s no denying who Henry was — or who he was claiming to be. The resemblance to Arthur Fox was uncanny.

 

Alex was now thinking back on the time, a few years ago, when he found out the actor even had children. This was the time when the news about Arthur’s death broke out. He remembered seeing a TMZ article going viral mentioning how Arthur had three kids: Phillip, the oldest; Bea, the second oldest; and Henry, the youngest. TMZ being TMZ, the article talked about how devastated the family was by Arthur’s death, and how each of his children seemed to be handling it in different ways.

 

Alex didn’t know why he kept reading the article, whose author was clearly overstepping their bounds. The only excuse Alex could come up with was the fact that he got entranced by a screenshot from Henry’s instagram embedded in that article. The post was simply just a poem written in white letters with a dark background.

 

Reading it had brought tears to Alex’s eyes. He didn’t know if Henry had written it himself or if he was just sharing a poem he liked. Curiosity getting the better of him, Alex had exited Safari to open Instagram.

 

The second he saw Henry Fox’s picture on his profile, Alex was enamored. He couldn’t help but scroll through his account some more, only stopping himself when he’d gotten to a post from the previous year and realized how weird and stalkerish he was being. He remembered lying down on his bed, thinking that was the most beautiful boy teenaged Alex had ever seen.

 

Remembering all that, Alex nearly slapped himself for not recognizing Henry’s face on his screen right away.

 

“This Henry guy must be a catfish. There’s no way they brought a famous person on this show,” Alex said aloud, so that the audience watching at home in the future could know what was going through his mind — just as Zahra, the producer who’d been assigned to him, had advised prior to his entering the Circle. Though, Alex supposed, Henry technically wasn’t a celebrity — his dad was. Henry was just a boy who happened to have a famous father.

 

Still, Alex’s brows furrowed at his screen. “If he is who he says he is, though, why would Henry fucking Fox come onto a show where the end goal is a prize of $100,000 dollars? Isn’t he rich enough already?”

 

Despite his initial reaction, Alex knew he should probably start making connections with the other players. So, he figured he might as well break the ice. He prompted, “Circle, take me to Circle Chat.” This was the group chat with all of the players.

 

Through the voice activated software on this TV, he said, “Circle, message: Hey, y’all! Can you believe we’re all here? Celebration emoji, champagne emoji, heart emoji. And send!”

 

A guy named Liam replied first. He said: Alex, dude, this is crazyyy! It’s great to see a fellow Texan in here!

 

“He must have read my bio,” Alex said out loud. Alex made a mental note to try to befriend this Liam dude, since he found out they already have something in common. Perhaps they could form an alliance?

 

More responses from other players came rolling in, most of them along the lines of So excited to be here! or Can’t wait to get to know all of you!

 

Then Henry sent his reply: Hi everyone, hope you’re all doing well! I have to say I do feel well outnumbered by all you Anericans, though. How are you lot liking this side of the Atlantic?

 

For now at least, Alex decided to drop his inner debate with himself about whether or not Henry could be a catfish. At the moment, all that mattered was making a good first impression with everyone else.

 

Alex replied, “Circle, message: It’s been pretty good so far, but to be fair, I haven’t gotten to see much of this place, since being on this show. It would be nice to go sightseeing someday, though. Looking emoji.” After reading what the voice activated keyboard wrote for him and was satisfied with the result, he said, “Okay and send the message.”

 

Henry replied almost instantly: I’d be more than happy to give you a tour, Alex. Just say when. Alex’s eyes bulged out of their sockets. Henry sent a fucking winking emoji.

 

What the fuck.

 

Alex could feel his face heating up from that. Henry couldn’t be flirting with him, right? He knew that wasn’t unheard of, especially on The Circle. Judging from what he’d seen previously on this show, some people used flirting as a tactic to build relationships and connections with other players. Now that Alex thought of it, that made sense.

 

Out loud, for the cameras and the audience, he said, “Oh, this must be Henry’s strategy: flirt in order to gain trust and form alliances. I wasn’t sure if anyone would go there, but this is giving me an idea. It might come back to bite me in the ass later, but whatever. Fuck it.”

 

Well, two could play at that game.

 

He flirted back. “Circle, message: Sounds like a plan, H. I’m holding you to it now, babe. Maybe after you show me England I can take you to America. Winking emoji. Hashtag ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.’” He then told The Circle to send the message, not wanting to second guess that innuendo he snuck in that hashtag.

 

He may have had a small infatuation with Henry Fox a few years ago, but Alex couldn’t let that get in the way of his $100,000. Though if flirting with the man could help his chances of building a strong connection in this game and getting that much closer to winning, then that’s what he’ll do.

 

After all, this is just a game, right?

 

Let the games begin.